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Review of  World Englishes

Reviewer: Thomas Hoffmann
Book Title: World Englishes
Book Author: Rajend Mesthrie Rakesh Mohan Bhatt
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 20.1355

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AUTHORS: Mesthrie Rajend; Bhatt, Rakesh M.
TITLE: World Englishes
SUBTITLE: The Study of New Linguistic Varieties
SERIES: Key Topics in Sociolinguistics
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
YEAR: 2008

Thomas Hoffmann, English Linguistics, University of Regensburg (Germany)

Due to the great number of varieties of English around the world it seems no longer
appropriate to conceive of English as a single monolithic language. Instead many
scholars speak of ''Englishes'' to emphasise the great heterogeneity of these
varieties, which include classic first language (L1) varieties such as British
English and American English as well as Scottish English or Australian English,
postcolonial second language varieties such as Indian English, Kenyan English or
Singaporean English, English-based Pidgins and Creoles such as Cameroonian
Pidgin English or Jamaican Creole as well as English as a Foreign Language
varieties (EFL) in e.g. Europe or China. In this volume, Mesthrie and Bhatt
investigate the linguistic structures of these different Englishes from a
sociolinguistic perspective. In particular, they focus on what they call ''New
Englishes'' (p. 12), i.e. L2 and language shift varieties (i.e. former L2
varieties that are turning into L1s; p. 6). In addition to surveying common
phonological, lexical, morphological, syntactic, pragmatic and discourse
features of New Englishes, they also address issues of acquisition of these
varieties in light of results from language contact and language acquisition
studies. The book is published in the Key Topics in Sociolinguistics series and,
like all titles in this series, is aimed at a readership ''that covers
researchers in the field, academics, their advanced undergraduate and beginning
graduate students'' (p. xiii). Each chapter concludes with a set of study
questions and suggestions for further reading. In addition to that, a glossary
of the most important terms as well as the full bibliography together with an
author and subject index can be found at the end of the book.

Chapter 1, ''History: the spread of English'' (pp. 1-38), provides an introduction
to the field of World Englishes studies. After a brief summary of the history of
the discipline (1-3), Mesthrie and Bhatt give a concise definition of the most
frequently used terms for the various subtypes of Englishes world-wide (such as
e.g. Pidgin Englishes, Creole Englishes, English as a Second Language (ESL),
English as a Foreign Language (EFL), Language-shift Englishes, English as a
Lingua Franca, New Englishes, World Englishes, etc.). For the sake of
consistency, Mesthrie and Bhatt adopt ''English language complex'' as a cover term
for all varieties of English, while they reserve the term ''World Englishes'' for
''all varieties except the L1 varieties of places like the UK and USA'' (p.12). In
contrast to this, they only use ''New Englishes'' to refer to ''ESL and
language-shift varieties'' (p.12). In a next step, they outline the historical
evolution of the English language complex from the Old English period to the
present day, with a particular focus on ''the spread of English in former British
colonies'' (p. 17). Then, the authors discuss various models of classification of
the English language complex such as McArthur's (1987) wheel model and Kachru's
(1988) three circles model as well as Schneider's (2003) dynamic model of the
evolution of postcolonial varieties. The chapter ends with a critical assessment
of the native speaker controversy.

Chapter 2, ''Structural features of New Englishes I: morphology and phrasal
syntax'' (39-77), is the first of four chapters which give largely descriptive
accounts of ''recurrent features of New Englishes'' (p. 39). In order to guarantee
the comparability of the varieties in question, Mesthrie and Bhatt limit
themselves to morphological and syntactic features of New Englishes that have
been widely documented in the literature. As they point out, however, these are
prototypical features (xii) that need not be found in all New Englishes.
Furthermore, even if a variety is said to possess a feature it is not
necessarily the case that all speakers of New Englishes will exhibit it, since
these speech communities comprise L2 learners of different degrees of developing
competence in English. Finally, and most importantly from a sociolinguistic
point of view, Mesthrie and Bhatt admit that ''[w]here a local feature occurs, it
is not always clear from the sources how frequent it is, and what its relations
to more standard or colloquial 'L1' constructions are'' (p. 43). Then, taking
Standard English features as a non-prescriptive reference point, several
prototypical New Englishes features are discussed with respect to their
potential sources (incomplete superstrate rule acquisition, superstrate
dialects, retention of older forms of the superstrate and innovations) including
noun phrase features (e.g. the omission of articles, lack of plural marking on
nouns, the treatment of mass nouns as count nouns, pronoun deletion); verb
phrase features (e.g. variable presence of past tense marking, alternative
marking of perfective aspect, e.g., with 'already' instead of 'have + V-en',
absence of copular 'be', use of habitual 'be'); and variability in preposition
and conjunction use.

''Structural features of New Englishes II: cross-clausal syntax and syntactic
theory'' (78-108) continues with a list of recurrent cross-clausal features which
include word order phenomena (e.g. a greater preference of yes/no-questions
being marked by rising intonation instead of subject-auxiliary inversion,
extended use of topicalisation constructions such as left-dislocation or
fronting); relative clause features (e.g. a tendency for resumptive pronouns);
passive features (substrate-induced innovations such as the 'kena'-passives in
Singaporean English; cf. ''John kena scolded by his boss'' 'John was scolded by
his boss' [p. 84]); the use of invariant tag questions (such as 'isn't it'); or
more fluid adverb placement (e.g. final 'already' as in ''I have seen you
already'' Philippines English; [p. 89]). The chapter then concludes with an
exemplary sociolinguistic variationist study on copula deletion in Singaporean
English (Ho and Platt 1993) and a theoretical Optimality Theory (OT) analysis of
the variation of subject-auxiliary inversion displayed in direct and indirect
questions in varieties of Indian English.

As the title ''More on structure: lexis and phonology'' (109-30) suggests, chapter
4 concentrates on lexical, phonetic and phonological similarities among New
Englishes. The lexical items mentioned are mainly limited to ''a particular
country or region [...] or a used in several territories without being fully
international'' (pp. 109-10). They comprise lexemes from local languages which
pertain to ''local customs and culture, including terms for food, clothing, music
and dance'' (p. 110), as well as English words whose semantics have been widened
(e.g. 'sorry' denoting ''sympathy for another's misfortune, rather than an
admission of culpability'' [p. 113] in Africa) or narrowed (e.g. 'raw' meaning
'inexperienced, crude' instead of 'crude, vulgar' [p. 113] in Indian South
African English). Among other characteristics, Mesthrie and Bhatt also discuss
the tendency of New Englishes speakers to employ more formal terms in colloquial
situations or word-formation processes such as reduplication (e.g. Sub-Saharan
''quick-quick'' for ''quickly'' [p. 117]). In the section on phonetics and
phonology, the authors restrict themselves to an analysis of New Englishes in
Africa and South and South-East Asia. Moreover they stress that with respect to
these features a great ''degree of intra-speaker and stylistic variation'' (p.
119) can be observed and that their focus is not on the most upper-class and
educated speakers (whose accents will be closer to one of the prestigious target
languages such as British or American English). Using Wells' (1982) lexical set,
Mesthrie and Bhatt then characterize the New Englishes systems of stressed short
vowels as either retaining the Standard English six vowel system or a exhibiting
a reduced five-vowel system (with either TRAP-STRUT or LOT-STRUT merger). In
contrast to this, the unstressed vowels in LETTER and COMMA display a
considerable range of variation with respect to their realization. Furthermore,
the authors argue that in most of the New Englishes in Africa and South-(East)
Asia length is not distinctive, leading e.g. to KIT-FLEECE, FOOT-GOOSE and
LOT-THOUGHT mergers. The most prominent feature of the consonant system that
Mesthrie and Bhatt mention is that all New Englishes replace the Standard
English interdental fricatives with other, similar sounds (such as e.g. dental
stops or alveolar stops). Following this, the authors present common
phonological processes in New Englishes, including final devoicing of obstruents
and consonant-cluster reduction. Finally, they also review supra-segmental
features of New Englishes such as the tendency towards syllable timing instead
of stress timing and the ''smaller range of intonational contours compared to RP
[Received Pronunciation]'' (p. 129).

After that, chapter 5, ''Pragmatics and discourse'' (131-55), shows ''how New
Englishes have altered the syntactic and discourse forms of metropolitan
varieties to recreate, maintain, or represent more faithfully local cultural
practices and culturally embedded meanings'' (p. 132). Invariant tag questions in
Indian English (''You are going home soon, isn't it?'' [p. 133]) e.g. have the
pragmatic politeness function of ''signalling deference and acquiescence'' (p.
133). Another example given by Mesthrie and Bhatt are discourse particles such
as the various types of 'la' in Singaporean English, which index a speaker's
attitude or stance. Cultural-specific conventions also affect speech acts in New
Englishes: gratitude in Indian English is normally expressed by a ''very ornate,
high, deferential style'' (p. 143). On top of that, as the authors show, the new
cultural contexts have also had an impact on New Englishes literature. In
addition, they illustrate how these conventions can lead to difficulties in
discourse across cultures (as exemplified by a meeting between an American and a
Chinese businessman; p. 144). Finally, Mesthrie and Bhatt provide an account of
style shifting and code-mixing in New Englishes.

In chapter 6 (''Language contact and language acquisition issues in New English
research'', 156-99), the authors address the issue of the acquisition of New
Englishes. As they point out, these varieties are similar to Creoles in that
they evolved through language contact. At the same time New Englishes differ
from Creoles in that they ''are to a large extent the products of educational
systems'' (p. 156). For these reasons, Mesthrie and Bhatt examine the insights
that contact linguistics and second language acquisition research might have to
offer for the study of New Englishes. First they assess potential insights from
second language acquisition studies by outlining the similar educational context
of acquisition of ''classic'' L2s and New Englishes. Consequently Mesthrie and
Bhatt argue that more attention should be paid to processes of acquisition in
New English studies (cf. p. 159). At the same time they also stress the unique
characteristics of these varieties that set them apart from ''classic L2s'' (e.g.
that New Englishes learners also use English outside of the classroom in certain
domains, which might lead to the stabilization of ''new structural, lexical and
pragmatic norms'' [p. 157]). In a next step they then discuss the potential role
of second language acquisition topics such as routes of development, transfer,
Chomsky's Universal Grammar and functional/cognitive processes (in particular
economy of production and reduction of ambiguity). The next section investigates
New Englishes from a contact linguistics perspective, taking Creoles as the
classic result of language contact as a point of comparison. Mesthrie and Bhatt
start out reviewing various positions on the genesis of Creoles: namely the view
of Creoles as the result of the acquisition of a new variety that is largely
independent of the superstrate language versus the stance that Creoles are the
result of continuous imperfect acquisition of the superstrate. While the former
position implies a sharp distinction between Creoles and New Englishes, the
latter allows an interpretation of the two types of varieties as different
outputs of essentially similar factors with differences arising from different
contact situations. After that, the authors show that New Englishes meet many
criteria which Bickerton (1983) claimed as distinctive Creole-features: 1) that
New Englishes can ''become first languages by processes of language shift'' (p.
181); 2) that their acquisition, just like that of Creoles, occurs in social
groups and not just on an individual level; 3) that New Englishes are also
learned by children and not just adults; and 4) that New Englishes can emerge
just as abruptly as Creoles. However, they also stress that one of Bickerton's
criteria distinguishes Creoles from New Englishes: while the former have no
target, the educational context in which the acquisition of New Englishes
largely takes place introduces a target variety. This leads Mesthrie and Bhatt
to conclude that ''New Englishes and Creoles are prototypically clearly
differentiable in their social circumstances and linguistic forms [... but] that
perspectives from Creolistics are [... still] crucial'' (p. 183) for New
Englishes studies. The chapter ends with a section highlighting the importance
of taking into account the actual historical input varieties that shaped the New
Englishes. This involves investigating the relevant archaic form of Standard
English, the regional dialects of settlers as well as the English of sailors,
missionaries, soldiers and teachers who visited a particular region.

The book's final chapter ''Conclusion: current trends in the spread of English''
(200-23) is intended to round ''off the study of W[orld] E[nglishe]s by examining
them in the context of linguistic aspects of globalisation and some practical
issues surrounding it'' (p. 200). It starts out with a summary of the debate
whether British or American English should be the norm for international
communication and education or whether local New Englishes should be adopted in
outer circle countries. This is followed by a survey of the development of EFL
varieties in international airline communication, their changing role in Europe
as well as their use as an international company language. Next Mesthrie and
Bhatt briefly look at the limited effect of globalization on the degree of
accommodation of New Englishes to British and American English in Asian call
centers as well as an Indian immigrant group in San Francisco. The penultimate
section disputes the idea of English as ''a killer language'' and offers a more
realistic account of the actual and potential spread of the English language.
The book ends with a short conclusion in which Mesthrie and Bhatt reemphasize
that their main goal was ''to examine the linguistic underpinnings of the spread
[of English] (from the perspective of Sociolinguistics and other branches of
Linguistic Theory), and to place the spread of English in a global context as
well as in various local contexts'' (p. 222).

This book is an excellent sociolinguistic introduction to the study of New
Englishes. Currently, a large number of World Englishes studies adopt a
corpus-based approach, with many researchers drawing, e.g., on the comparable
set of corpora from the International Corpus of English project (Greenbaum
1996). While these are all important studies that have revealed many interesting
findings about the different types of Englishes, they obviously neglect the
inter-individual differences characterizing all New Englishes: results from
present corpora only qualify as abstractions over speech communities, but they
tell us nothing about the individual competence of speakers. As Mesthrie and
Bhatt rightly argue, future research should complement corpus studies with
sociolinguistic variationist approaches in order to get an empirically adequate
description of New Englishes which will then allow a more profound theoretical
analysis of their acquisition.

In chapters 2 through 5, Mesthrie and Bhatt provide a wealth of common
linguistic features of New Englishes (the compilation of which has greatly been
facilitated by the publication of several comprehensive handbooks on Englishes
world-wide such as Hickey 2004, Kortmann et al. 2004 or Schneider et al. 2004).
Many of these features still await a thorough sociolinguistic analysis on par
with the one on copula deletion in Singaporean English presented in chapter 3.3.
In fact, I personally found this section one of the most interesting ones and
would have liked the book to contain more Variationist analyses such as this.

In contrast to chapter 3.3, I found the Optimality Theory (OT) account of New
English syntactic variation in 3.4 the weakest section of the book. I have to
admit that I am coming from a Construction Grammar background, which means that
I am generally skeptical of OT's potential to deal with variation: whenever a
language exhibits two competing structures, OT accounts must always assume two
different constraint-rankings (i.e. in essence two different grammars; cf. p.
97). This, however, entails that in a particular situation only one predictable
structure should be chosen as the optimal candidate. Take one of the phenomena
that Mesthrie and Bhatt discuss in the section in question: they argue that
Standard Indian English shows the Standard English word order in embedded
questions (''They know who Vijay has invited tonight''), while Colloquial Indian
English has subject-verb inversion (''They know who has Vijay invited tonight'';
cf. p. 98). Without going into technical details, they attribute these
differences to two different grammars with different constraint-rankings. I
would argue that such an account runs counter to the sociolinguistic
variationist approach adopted in the rest of the book: from a sociolinguistic
perspective it is expected that individual speakers will use the two structures
differently depending on many different variables including their education, the
formality of the situation, and the person they are talking to. To model this
phenomenon as two separate grammars of Indian English seems counter-intuitive to
me. I think it seems more appropriate to assume that speakers only have a single
mental grammar of Indian English which has a more informal construction (with
inversion) and a more formal one (with Standard English word order) which is
acquired in formal settings (mostly through education). Then in any particular
situation competition would be between different structures and not separate
grammars. In addition to these general points, I also think that the OT analysis
is flawed for other reasons: on p. 99 Mesthrie and Bhatt assume that the
inverted structure is generated as a Complementizer Phrase (CP), while the
non-inverted one is an Inflectional Phrase (IP). Yet, on p. 105-6 the
non-inverted structure is given as a full CP with the WH-item in its specifier
position and an empty category C-head. What makes this so problematic is that
Mesthrie and Bhatt's analysis crucially depends on this empty C-head: in
Colloquial Indian English a constraint called OB-HD is ranked highest which
explicitly bans such empty heads in embedded structures (while in Standard
Indian English it is ranked lower thus licensing non-inverted embedded
questions). This obviously also leads to the question of the nature of the
''GENERATOR'' that creates the structures that are to be evaluated by the OT
constraints. Mesthrie and Bhatt only state that the GENERATOR ''uses X-bar
theoretic assumptions to generate freely all possible candidate structural
descriptions for a given input'' (101-2). I will neglect the question whether it
is cognitively plausible that all possible structures should be generated.
Instead I want to draw attention to the fact that the generated structures that
the authors propose also exhibit some type of movement (since they contain
traces) so that they cannot be constructed by only an X-bar algorithm. How the
generator carries out these movement operations (what triggers it? is it
constrained in any way?) is not mentioned by the authors. Finally, another point
of criticism concerns the presentation of the OT constraints on p. 103: I don't
think that sociolinguists or most other linguists without training in formal
syntax will be able to understand what constraints such as ''OB-HD: Heads of
selected projections must be filled (either by trace or overt material)'' or
''PARSE: Parse input items'' are supposed to mean.

Despite this extended criticism of Mesthrie and Bhatt's OT account, I would like
to point out that this only concerns a small section of the book. Let me
therefore emphasize again that in general this is a great book that should be of
interest to sociolinguists as well as linguists working on language contact,
second language acquisition, and World Englishes. For the discipline of World
Englishes it can only be hoped that the book will inspire much interdisciplinary
research by experts from all of these fields.

Bickerton, D. 1983. ''Comments on A. Valdman, Creolisation and second language
acquisition''. In R. Andersen, ed. _Pidginisation and Creolisation as Language
Acquisition_. Rowley, MA: Newbury House, 235-40.

Greenbaum, S., ed. 1996. _Comparing English Worldwide: The International Corpus
of English_. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Hickey, R. 2004. _Legacies of Colonial English_. Cambridge: Cambridge University

Ho, M.L. and J.T. Platt. 1993. _The Dynamics of a Contact Continuum_. Oxford:

Kachru, B.B. 1988, ''The sacred cows of English''. _English Today_ 16: 3-8.

Kortmann, B., E.W. Schneider, K. Burridge, R. Mesthrie and C. Upton, eds. 2004.
_A Handbook of Varieties of English_. Vol. 2: Morphology and Syntax. Berlin:
Mouton de Gruyter.

McArthur, T. 1987. ''The English Languages?''. _English Today_ 11: 9-11.

Schneider, E.W. 2003. ''The dynamics of New Englishes: From identity construction
to dialect birth''. _Language_ 79,2: 233-81.

Schneider, E.W., K. Burridge, B. Kortmann, R. Mesthrie and C. Upton, eds. 2004.
_A Handbook of Varieties of English. Vol. 1: Phonology_. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Wells, J.C. 1982. _Accents of English_. 3 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University

Dr. Thomas Hoffmann is Assistant Professor of English Linguistics at the
University of Regensburg, Germany. His main research interests are syntactic and
phonetic variation in World Englishes and Construction Grammar. His book
_Preposition Placement in English: A Usage-based Approach_ will appear with
Cambridge University Press and he has published articles in journals such as
_Corpus Linguistics_ and _Linguistic Theory_ and the _Journal of English
Linguistics_. He acts as an Editorial Assistant for the journal English
Word-Wide and is currently co-editing a _Varieties of English Around the World_

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